Author: Phyllis Rackin
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Category: Literary Criticism
Phyllis Rackin offers a fresh approach to Shakespeare's English history plays, rereading them in the context of a world where rapid cultural change transformed historical consciousness and gave the study of history a new urgency. Rackin situates Shakespeare's English chronicles among multiple discourses, particularly the controversies surrounding the functions of poetry, theater, and history. She focuses on areas of contention in Renaissance historiography that are also areas of concern in recent criticism-historical authority and causation, the problems of anachronism and nostalgia, and the historical construction of class and gender. She analyzes the ways in which the presence of history in Shakespeare's theater participated—and its representation in subsequent criticism still participates—in the contests between opposed theories of history and between the different ideological interests and historiographic practices they authorize. Celebrating the heroic struggles of the past and recording the patriarchal genealogies of kings and nobles, Tudor historians provided an implicit rationale for the hierarchical order of their own time; but the new public theater where socially heterogeneous audiences came together to watch common players enact the roles of their social superiors was widely perceived as subverting that order. Examining such sociohistorical factors as the roles of women and common men and the conditions of theatrical performance, Rackin explores what happened when elite historical discourse was trans porteto the public commercial theater. She argues that Shakespeare's chronicles transformed univocal historical writing into polyphonic theatrical scripts that expressed the contradictions of Elizabethan culture.